NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville SC will begin their inaugural preseason in MLS with just one Designated Player. As the expansion club convene their preseason camp in Florida, former German youth international Hany Mukhtar will wear the No. 10 jersey, and the weight of lofty expectations.
The 24-year old, signed from Brondby IF in Denmark’s first division, is ready to face those expectations – and plans to seize the initiative in his first season on this side of the pond, starting from the very beginning.
“Of course in football, it’s always pressure,” said Mukhtar as NSC unveiled their 2020 primary kits on Saturday. “You never play without pressure, because the club has goals, you have goals. But the most important for me in the beginning is that I get to know everybody in the team. That we find each other.
“I’ve never been to a team where 11 new players are on the field, so it takes time. I think what I have seen, we have good players, and we have the potential. When we find each other, we can be very successful.”
Mukhtar’s performances this season should go a long way toward determining just how strong a season Nashville SC have. That should come as no surprise to fans, and it’s certainly not a surprise to the attacking midfielder. Indeed, that sense of being the most important cog in the machine was a major selling point for general manager Mike Jacobs when he pitched the young German on taking his game across the Atlantic.
“It was something special,” Mukhtar said. “Not often that a team comes to you and says, ‘we will build a team around you; you will be one of the key players.’ That was, for me, very important. They gave me the feeling that I am important. Every player wants to feel important, that’s something special, I would say.
“Really, they treated me really well, the club. How they treated me was impressive, so I decided for me to come here to make the next step in my career to MLS. I hope it’s, for everybody, good: for the club and for me.”
Mukhtar’s knowledge of the league – and the acclaim he received when he announced he’d be playing in MLS – got a boost in recent years, thanks to broadcasting deals that have raised awareness of Major League Soccer in Europe.
“Actually, they showed a lot of Zlatan [Ibrahimovic]’s games, so I saw LA Galaxy a lot,” he admitted with a grin. “Of course, he helped the league, especially to Europe. The European channels, they showed most of his games. I’m really excited and I can’t wait to start: you have to write your own story, you know.”
Mukhtar is expected to be the orchestrator of Nashville’s attack. He began the 2019-20 Danish Superliga season on the bench with injury, but in the 12 league appearances he made after recovering from a minor foot issue, he notched two goals and two assists for fourth-place Brondby. It’s the latter that defines his game.
“I’m more like a playmaker,” he explained. “I’m an offensive-minded midfield player more than a scorer. I try to help the team as much as possible, and try to bring the [other] offensive players into the game as much as possible.”
While the Hertha Berlin academy product and FC Porto ex brings high-level experience to NSC’s first-ever MLS squad, Mukhtar still remains a player very much approaching his prime.
“I’m 24, so I have still 10 years to go,” he said. “I learned from the past. When I was 17, 18, I had big goals, crazy goals. Now I’ve learned to take it step by step. First now, be healthy, make a good preseason, try to get as fast as possible adapting to the league. But first, healthy, perform, be the best Hany Mukhtar I can, and that’s my goal.”
If all goes according to plan, maybe he can be that next player to draw the European spotlight to MLS.